In Japan, there is always something to celebrate, and around the country, there are thousands of festivals every year. While the summer is the traditional festival season, just because there is a nip in the air and frost on the ground, it doesn’t mean that the celebrations should stop. There are festivals and events going on around Nagoya and Aichi this month (January 2019).
Here are a few that might be worth checking out.
In 859CE the rice fields around Niike in modern-day Nishio City were selected to produce the annual offerings that Emperor Saiwa would make to Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture. With a decree of such of high importance it was imperative that the harvest was impressive, and this festival, which began as a rice planting ceremony, has become a ritual prayer for a strong harvest.
Today, the Tenteko festival sees six men of the unlucky ages head the parade through the streets in red costumes, the color associated with the gods, reflecting the sacred connection of rice growing. This being a fertility festival, the first three of ‘yaku-otoko’, as the men are known, wear phalluses carved from radishes attached to their rear end, and as they pass from Niike Hachiman Shrine through the streets, they shake their hips to the sound of the beating drums, ‘ten-teko, ten-teko, ten-teko’.
The festival cumulates in the other ‘yaku-okoto’ stirring up a pile of ash into the air, and if the ash lands on you it is said to be good luck; though you may not consider this to be the case if you are wearing something white!
Where: Niike Hachiman Shrine: 103, jinden, niike-cho, Nishio-City (map)
When: January 3, annually
Atusta Jingu is one of Japan’s three most important shrines, along with Ise Jingu and Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. January sees many rituals performed at the shrine, with the hatsumode services at the turn of the year prime amongst them. Following these New Year services come two further ceremonies: Touka Shinji and Hosha Shinji.
Touka Shinji, on January 11th, has its origins in ancient China and was replicated in the imperial courts of Heian period Japan. Today, in the courtyard of Atsuta Jingu, you can see priests resplendent in their white gowns performing rites including the playing of musical instruments and dances, as well as the reading out of a message from the emperor.
While Touka Shinji is a sedate affair, for the lovers of Japanese costume and ritual, Hosha Shinji on January 15 is a little more exciting. This Shinto ritual to pray for a productive year for crops and to exorcize evil spirits sees priests firing arrows at a large target. Thirty-six arrows are shot in all, with each of 12 priests taking three attempts to hit wooden blocks called ‘chigi’, each marked with the kanji character for ‘oni’ or demon, which are placed on the target. Once the final arrow is fired, the gathered crowd race to the target, and a scramble ensues as everyone fights to capture the chigi. The central one is the most sought-after prize, as it possesses the greatest luck for the coming year.
There are very few professions for which ‘death-defying’ is par for the course, but it is safe to say that firefighters certainly fall into that category. As if leaping into and out of burning buildings wasn’t enough, at the start of every January, the members of the Nagoya Fire Department cheat death to entertain the general public at that Dezome-shiki Firefighter Review.
With demonstrations of firefighting equipment for ground, air and sea – including fireboats, helicopters, and fire engines – some 2,000 firefighters perform exciting drills and breathtaking performances.
With its water cannon displays, helicopter-lifts and parades, it is particularly exciting for children, and starts at 10:00 at Nagoya Port, continuing until 11:30.
Where: Garden Pier, Port of Nagoya, Minato-machi, Minato-ku (map)
When: January 13, 2019
Nagoya doesn’t often get much snow, but from January 27 to February 25 Moricoro park will see tonnes of the stuff. Two thousand tonnes shipped in from Nagano Prefecture, to be exact.
With a snow play area, trampolines, bouncy castles, and a 50-meter snow slide, this is a great event for your kids to enjoy all forms of fun in the snow. There is also a food market and stage performances as well as snowman art competitions and a kite-making workshop. Admission to the park is free, but the slide and some of the stalls do involve a fee.
The Sagicho Matsuri began during the Muromachi period (1392-1573) as a ritual to pray for an increased catch for the fishermen living around the port of Morozaki.
Each year on the fourth Sunday of January, the men of the area strip down to fundoushi loin cloths and brave the chilly winter air. On the beach are piled up pyres of New Years gifts and decorations, along with a towering flag bearing a representation of the animal for the Chinese New Year (this year being the Year of the Pig). Once the pile is ready, it is set ablaze, and the loin-clothed men dance around it before dragging burning talismans out into the sea, diving into the icy water as they do so.
Eventually, the immense flagpole is set on fire, representing the festival’s climax. These festivals were once commonplace, but with there being so few fishing families left, there are very few opportunities to see them, making this an essential visit for matsuri completists.
Where: Hayashizaki Morozaki, Minamichita, Chita District (map)
When: January 26, 2019 1:00p.m. – 4:00p.m.
For more ideas of events and festivals going on in the Nagoya area, check out the always excellent kikuko-nagoya website.
Bariston [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Image: via http://www.yukimaturi.com/